Yesterday's budget session at city council was lengthy as City Administrator Jim Crumley presented cuts of $1,775,700 to the previously proposed 2009-2010 general fund budget. I have already outlined most of those cuts here.
Police officers were in attendance--occupying about one-half of the seats. Several officers spoke out in opposition to a city budget that contains no raises for employees but does have cuts in perfect attendance bonuses, cuts in holiday pay, cuts in longevity pay, and cuts in educational supplements.
It appears that no one is very happy.
Now if we think back to 2006, Crumley was proclaiming that city finances were in great shape and that there would be no tax increase "in the foreseeable future." Click here for Crumley's statements. Be sure to click on the newspaper articles to enlarge them and read for yourself exactly what City Administrator Crumley said in 2006 and then in 2007.
In 2007, Crumley announced that the city was in dire straits and a 40-cent property tax increase was needed. [Yes, the city was about to collapse in 2007--- only one year after Crumley had proclaimed that there would be no tax increase "in the foreseeable future."]
That 40-cent tax increase in 2007 passed under threats of impending doom and collapse.
Then the city, desperately wanting to roll back part of the enormous and historic property tax increase, promised to shave off 15-cents of the increase if city voters would support a sales tax increase in 2008 ("pick your-poison"). The City left 25-cents of the property tax increase on the backs of the taxpayers.
When you put it all together....the City (allegedly) was in great shape in 2006, then the City was in disastrous shape in 2007, and now in 2009 the City---AFTER a property tax increase of 25-cents and AFTER a sales tax increase---is all gloom and doom and making cuts everywhere.
Kinda makes you wonder, doesn't it?
As I have said before, there needs to be a detailed review of city and county finances by the city council and the county commission. No one needs to be using the old worn-out "I relied on so-and-so" to give me financial information. No one needs to be saying "We are audited." Audits look at just a few of the previous year's financial transactions, so audits at best can only catch a few problems and the problems that are spotted are usually reported at least 8 months--and sometimes 20 months-- after-the-fact.
Questions--probing questions--need to be asked need to be asked at every budget session.
But the simplest and most informative way to find out what's going on would be to institute true zero-based budgeting in both city and county.
I have consistently pushed for this budget model (zero-based) because it allows for a COMPLETE review of each department and justification of each line item at the time the budget is presented. Zero-based budgeting prevents one-time money that is budgeted for a specific purpose in one year from becoming a recurring budget item that is then spent on who knows what in future years.
With zero-based budgeting, you recognize and take one-time budgeted money out of the budget when a temporary employee position is eliminated or when a one-time piece of equipment has been purchased.
An added bonus is that zero-based budgeting is almost like doing an audit or review of the previous year's spending at the same time that you prepare a spending plan for the next year.
Now that would be a nifty way for the Mayor and City Council and for Hamblen County Commissioners to earn their pay, their insurance, their benefits, and perks while they find out what's really being spent and for what!
Council members and commissioners already spend a lot of hours at budget time listening to others "explain" the budget. If council members and commissioners used those same hours to do a true hands-on examination of their respective city and county budgets, they would know far more than they could ever know from just listening to those who have led the city and county into big spending, BIG debt, layer upon layer of administration, and departmental kingdoms with perks, perks, and more perks.
When you run for office and are accountable for millions of dollars, you need to be willing to put in the time!